A MESSAGE TO EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL LEARNING DURING COVID

Contribution By: Thalia Anguiano, M.Ed; Educator & Advocate and EYEJ Millennial Task Force Member

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities everywhere — in the areas of health, employment, education, and even more disturbing: the lack of digital accessibility. As we continue to educate and immerse ourselves in remote learning, it has become more apparent that though the internet, smartphones, social media, etc., have seemingly taken over our day-to-day, it is not as widely accessible as many may think. Yes — our phones are within reach, any information that we want to access is at the tip of our fingers, but for many, this is not a reality.

In the context of education, the amount of Black and brown and low-income students who find themselves completing homework assignments outside of McDonald’s for Wi-Fi is incredibly alarming. According to a U.S. News report, close to 9 million students (ages 9–18) found themselves without internet when schools shut down nationwide earlier this year due to the ongoing pandemic. Our students deserve to learn. We can place all kinds of expectations on them, such as logging on for classes on time to making sure they submit their homework. When they don’t have the resources to do so, where do we draw the line between upholding these academic expectations and recognizing the socioeconomic, oppressive inequities that don’t allow them to thrive academically?

As an educator, I continuously need to adapt the way I provide grace to others and myself. This transition to remote learning and engaging with students solely online is new to everyone — and everyone is still attempting to figure out what works best for them and what doesn’t. What I have discovered the most in my day-to-day practices is that many people I engage with are frustrated at not being able to log in to Google Classrooms or have tech issues with their devices just want to be heard. With all that’s occurred in 2020, if I can spend 10 minutes of my time on the phone to help a young person feel seen and validated, I hope I’m positively empowering another individual.

A Call to Action (for educators and advocates, alike):

  1. Ensure your digital tools and resources are accessible — if there is an asynchronous lesson plan (for example) that you want to show, be sure that it can opt into closed captioning. Providing tools for digital accessibility is one thing; it’s another to ensure that your devices and online teaching methods are still accessible in OTHER ways and inclusive.
  • Keep your privilege in check before giving out zeroes and marking students down as being “absent.” We don’t know what’s happening once students log off for the day — give grace, check-in when needed, and reflect on the repercussions that a zero or “absence” can have on a student’s academic disposition.
  • Provide space (when available) for families to check in with you or someone at school — we recently just held a parent engagement and wellness night event for my school network and had the opportunity to remind parents that they need self-care too. This small gesture can have a HUGE impact (and it gives you the ability to build stronger relationships with them as well).

My current role with EYEJ includes serving as one of two co-chair positions with the Millennial Taskforce. We aim to uplift and support the efforts of the EYEJ Youth Council while also getting millennials involved in the advocacy work of social justice. My biggest takeaway from the Digital Inclusion Week series, hosted by EYEJ October 5–9, 2020, was listening to the stories and experiences that our youth face daily. It was incredibly heartbreaking to hear about the obstacles that have systemically placed in the paths of youth across Cleveland. It was also inspiring to learn about all of our youth’s advocacy work to break through glass ceilings, provide others with access, and raise awareness of this issue, generally.

My message to youth: amid your advocacy work, please be sure to take care of yourself. Self Care is something that I struggle with daily, and I am working with my therapist on this. One of the biggest lessons she’s taught me in this area is that we cannot burden the world’s problems on our shoulders alone. Whenever I see an injustice happen, I feel the need to go out and fix whatever is broken immediately. This isn’t always the most feasible, and it’s certainly not healthy. Take care of yourselves, so you can feel empowered to empower others. Empowerment in the heart of advocacy work is cyclical — it takes one to empower another and another, so on so forth. However, the cycle cannot move if the people driving it aren’t charged with the energy needed to keep it moving. Your voices are so critical and necessary — make sure your cup is filled before you start to pour out to others.

EYEJ drives social justice reform by empowering young people to advocate for change.

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